Van Spence

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Van Spence was a member of Litchfield, Minnesota’s GAR. That was a little unusual in that Van was black and Litchfield was a very white Scandinavian town. The following account about Van Spence is from Terry R. Shaw's book Terry Tales:

"Van Spence's real name was Allison or Albert Van Spence, but he was known to every one in Litchfield as simply "Van". He was born to African slaves in Alabama on January 16, 1837 and was sold away from his parents at the age of seven. By the time he was nineteen, he had been sold two more times. Drafted into the Confederate Army when the American Civil War broke out, Van deserted and “escaped” to the north where he enlisted in the Union Army. It was at this time that he met Lt. Frank E. Daggett, who was as short and wide as Van was. They became friends. Van became the personal servant of Major General George Henry Thomas until the war ended. He ended up in Wisconsin where he met and married another freed slave named Missouri Jay Blair. Because of Van’s friendship with Daggett, he and his wife came to Litchfield in 1880.

Van became an officer in the GAR,(The Grand Army of the Republic), a custodian at the Meeker County courthouse and Litchfield’s lamplighter. The city paid him 50¢ a night for his lamp lighting. As the courthouse custodian, he cut wood for its rooms’ fireplaces and the heaters in the basement. Van proudly marched in every annual Memorial Day parade out to the cemetery. He entertained the...
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